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*** NOTE: the REU program at SOMAS will not run in 2011. Information about the possible renewal of this program in 2012 and beyond will be posted, as appropriate, on this page." ***

REU Students Blog from Bimini

During summer 2010 The School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University will host a 9-week program for 8 academically talented and motivated undergraduates through funding by the National Science Foundation to actively participate in research concerning the implications of a changing global climate on coastal environments. SoMAS is a multidisciplinary research institute specializing in interdisciplinary approaches to the study immediate regional problems, as well as long-term problems relating to the global oceans and atmosphere.  This summer we will compare marsh/beach ecosytems of Long Island with mangrove/beach ecosystems of Bimini, Bahamas. Participants will work with a faculty mentor in one of the following areas:

  • Molecular ecology - shark behavior and population biology, marine conservation
  • Coastal groundwater hydrology, influences of tides and rainfall on groundwater characteristics and water quality
  • Evolutionary ecology and fisheries- climatic factors influencing physiology and population structure
  • Coastal meteorology - diurnal convection and precipitation studies involving conventional radar and weather service data, field observations, and mesoscale models.
  •  Atmospheric chemistry - measurement and characterization of biogenic sources of coastal aerosols
  • Microbiogeochemistry - primary productivity, microbial activities, fluxes of greenhouse gases, and nutrient cycling in coastal ecosystems.

Coastal zones are particularly vulnerable to climate variability and change. Major concerns include rising sea level and the implications for coastal human communities, natural ecosystems, and marine organisms; the frequency and magnitude of storms and flooding; land loss due to erosion, subsidence, and habitat destruction; and water resources due to changes in groundwater salinity. The 20th century saw the greatest increase in temperature of any century during the last thousand years, and the last decade was the warmest since records began. As the temperature rises, so does the sea level – with profound consequences for us all (Australian Academy of Science, 2009).

Program Goals:

Projected rates of sea-level rise over the next century can be expected to contribute significantly to physical changes along open-ocean shorelines. Predicting the nature and magnitude of changes to coastlines is important for understanding the impacts to humans, other organisms, and the environment. Both Long Island and the Bahamas island of Bimini have major portions of their coastlines covered by mangrove swamps/Spartina marshes, tidal flats and other wetlands. While there are tremendous contrasts in island size, and human population densities, small size and few people does not automatically equate with fewer impacts or less impact on water resources, habitats, and fisheries. We will use this cross-site comparison to demonstrate the importance of interdisciplinary scientific research and teamwork in gathering data, for understanding real-world problems. Projects will be based on and involve field studies and possibly laboratory experiments.

The Islands:

Both the longest and the largest island in the contiguous United States, Long Island with an area of 3,629 km2 extends eastward 190 km from New York Harbor.  Formed largely by two spines of glacial moraine left behind during the two most recent pulses of Wisconsin glaciations some 21,000 years ago, the northern or Harbor Hill moraine, directly abuts the southern coast of Long Island Sound. The more southerly or Ronkonkoma moraine runs primarily through the very center of Long Island. The highest point on the Island is 122 m, but >50% of the Island is less than 30m above sea level. It averages 22 km in width with a maximum width of 37 km between the North Shore of Long Island Sound and the southern Atlantic Ocean coast. Wetlands and glacially-rafted pebbly beaches cover the north shore, while wetlands and white sand beaches extend along the Atlantic Ocean and Outer Barrier Islands. Fresh groundwater stored in unconsolidated sand aquifers underlies virtually the entire island. Over 7 million people live on the Island with highest concentrations in the western one-third. The climate is similar to other northeastern U.S. coastal areas with warm, humid summers and cold winters. Afternoon sea breezes from the Atlantic Ocean temper the heat in the warmer months and limit the frequency and severity of thunderstorms. While vulnerable to hurricanes projecting out into the Atlantic, its northern location and relatively cool ocean waters tend to weaken storms to below hurricane strength by the time they reach the Island.

The Bahamas Islands ecoregion consists of more than 3000 low-lying islands with 80% of the land area within 1.5 m of mean sea level and a maximum elevation of 60 m. Only 29 of the islands are inhabited, and most of which are no more than rocky islets and cays. The Islands lie entirely in the Atlantic Ocean, about 161 km east of the Florida coast in an extensive area of shallow water on a base of large submerged limestone banks surrounded by deep channels. They are situated between two warm currents – the Gulf Stream which is constant, and the Antilles current which comes across the Atlantic and shifts its location between the northern and southern part of the Bahamas islands in summer and winter. This creates a north to south variation in water temperatures with cold periods sufficient to reduce species diversity and coral reef development. The climate is sub-tropical, with temperatures ranging from north to south, between 27 and 29°C in summer, and 20 and 25°C in winter. Precipitation decreases from 1400 mm in the north to 700 mm in the south. Rainfall averages 130 cm per year with greatest rainfall periods May to October. Tides are semi-diurnal, with a range of 1.5 m, and salinity is for the most part constant. These islands are among those most exposed to hurricanes in the Caribbean region because they are along a frequent path of hurricanes originating in the Atlantic. In addition relatively low precipitation, there are no major rivers because of the porous limestone substrate, through which water rapidly enters underground areas. Mangrove swamps, tidal flats and other wetlands constitute major portions of the coastlines of virtually all The Bahamas Islands. Fresh water lenses are only 9-30 m thick with cesspool pollution, salt water incursion, and over-pumping forcing most areas to rely on reverse osmosis for fresh water. 

The program will run from 2 June to 6 August and provides ‘hands-on’ experience in the field with small boats and sampling gear and in the laboratory with state-of-the-art analytical instruments and techniques. Students interested in atmospheric sciences have a network of PC/Unix/Linux/Mac computers available for research projects. A comprehensive system (developed by UNIDATA) for ingesting, displaying and processing real-time data in the form of worldwide surface and upper air observations, numerical weather prediction model output, facsimile maps, satellite imagery, US and local Doppler radars, and lightning data is also available.

We will spend the first week and a half at Stony Brook, two weeks in Bimini (returning by the end of June) and the remainder of the time at Stony Brook. Students will receive background materials to read before arriving and work closely with mentors to formulate projects and prepare for field work during the first week and a half. Mentors and several graduate students will accompany students to the field. Students will be expected to prepare a final report on their project and present results in a final symposium. Mentors and students typically meet weekly to discuss research progress and make subsequent plans.

Other activities include lectures on relevant topics, guest speakers, and field trips. We will be staying on relatively uninhabited South Bimini during our field campaign, but there will be opportunities to explore the more inhabited North Bimini. The village of Stony Brook where the University is located is bounded by Long Island Sound to the north and the Atlantic Ocean to the south. Our location at the eastern end of Long Island provides easy access to a variety of outdoor activities including swimming and boating, hiking, biking, and kayaking/canoeing. Our proximity to New York City also allows field trips to sporting events, museums, and many cultural activities.

Financial support includes a stipend of $450/wk, travel expenses, accommodations in air-conditioned dormitories with cooking facilities (at Stony Brook University), and a meal allowance of $60/week while at Stony Brook. Infirmary and student activity fees are covered and allow complete access to health, library and athletic facilities on campus.  Please note: We will assist you with travel arrangements.  Living arrangements allow opportunities to interact socially with other undergraduates involved in research programs on campus.

The program will cover all travel expenses associated with our field time in Bimini. We will be living in rental houses on the island and preparing our own meals. More details will be available at a later date.

To be eligible, applicants must be undergraduates with at least a 3.0 GPA in their major, U.S. citizens or permanent residents. Preference will be given to undergraduates who have completed at least two years of study towards a bachelor’s degree. Please note: If you have already participated in an OCE-funded REU site you are NOT ELIGIBLE for a second internship except under unusual circumstances. Questions should be addressed to program coordinator Josephine Aller at jyaller@notes.cc.sunysb.edu (631 632-8655).

VERY IMPORTANT: YOU MUST HAVE A VALID U.S. PASSPORT WHICH DOES NOT EXPIRE WITHIN 6 MONTHS OF JUNE 1, 2010 TO PARTICIPATE. If you do not have a passport, you may apply for the program and wait to see if you are accepted before obtaining one.

Please note: We will be snorkeling to study the coastal environments of Bimini. You do not need SCUBA diving certification. You should however, know how to swim well enough to learn how to snorkel.  Students with disabilities requiring special consideration will be required to notify and consult with the program director in advance of acceptance into the program. All reasonable efforts will be made to accommodate persons with physical disabilities that would restrict their participation in fieldwork. SBU is an EEO/AA Educator & Employer.

Applications are due by February 17, 2010; decisions by March 15. All students who are offered a position at this REU Site have until March 15th or later to accept or reject the offer. Any student who is asked to accept or reject an offer prior to March 15th should contact the Division of Ocean Science's REU Program Director, Lisa Rom at elrom@NSF.gov or 703-292-7709.

To apply, applicants must

  1. complete application form which includes a short essay describing their scientific interests, educational plans, and expectations of the summer research experience
  2. provide official transcripts and list of courses in progress
  3. two letters of recommendation

Referees may email letters to the program coordinator, Josephine Aller at: jyaller@notes.cc.sunysb.edu

Forms may be downloaded from the SoMAS web site (REU Application Form), or by contacting Mrs. Eileen Goldsmith at

Research Experience for Undergraduates
SoMAS
Stony Brook University
Stony Brook, New York 11794-5000
Telephone: (631) 632-8726
FAX: (631) 632-3066
E-mail: egoldsmith@notes.cc.sunysb.edu


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